Lisa Donato
Blogger, Lisa Donato

What the June 26 marriage equality ruling means to one lesbian.

The only thing I prayed for when I was young was to not turn out gay. I thought being a lesbian was the worst thing that could happen to me. Then I grew up and fell in love with a girl in my college sorority. Damn those blue eyes and kindred affinity to Sarah McLachlan!

We hid our relationship for two years and pretended to date boys. One time, while I sat in the passenger car, I watched her lean out of the driver’s seat and kiss a boy right in front of me. It broke my heart, but I kept silent. And so did we.

Another night, while I was visiting my parents in Montana, she snuck into my basement window. My parents were going to be camping for the weekend. My girlfriend literally hid in the closet while we listened to them pack up and leave the house the next morning.

We were free! Until we weren’t. Five minutes after my girlfriend jumped into bed with me, we heard the footsteps of my parents coming down the stairs. I still remember the horror of my heartbeat pounding at the back of my throat.

My dad opened the door and saw a woman in bed with me. I didn’t know a man’s voice could reach such a high octave. And as I heard my mom start to giggle – something Donato women do when they get nervous – I hid under the covers and tried to conceal my shame.

My secret was out. My relationship with my dad changed for the next couple of years as he tried to reconcile his ingrained belief systems, homophobic work environment, and unconditional love for me.

My girlfriend and I came out slowly to close friends and family. We were mostly supported, but we were never affectionate in public. We were together nine years and marriage was never a topic of conversation. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. We were more concerned with the opinions of our coworkers. Every week felt like we were making a choice to come out or not. Every week felt like this choice to be brave was going to affect our income, social status, health rights, etc. We even got denied an apartment lease to a studio apartment in 2000!

Then in 2008, I fell in love with a woman named Heather Nevill. We were leading volunteers with the Human Rights Campaign for the Colorado chapter. We marched on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and met with representatives from all over the country to talk about the importance of marriage equality. At this time, there was only one state where same-sex marriage was legal – Massachusetts. We fought, side-by-side, for years to win over 1,200 legal rights that separated married couples from same-sex partnerships.

Lisa and Heather Nevill on a picnic
Lisa Donato and Heather Nevill on a picnic

Heather and I used to joke about hell freezing over if the day arrived when our home states, Texas and Montana, would allow two women to marry each other. We believed our work was merely paving a way for generations, at least 100 years after us, to finally benefit from these 1,200 civil liberties. We definitely did not believe we would witness in our lifetime that all 50 states would have marriage equality.

Lisa Donato and Heather Nevill
Lisa Donato (r) and Heather Nevill (l)

June 26 was a historical day. It’s a day to honour love. It’s a day to remind us that shame lives in the dark and under the covers. It’s a day to believe that seemingly insurmountable pain and discrimination can be overcome with bravery and hard work. But mostly, it’s a day to instil hope for those who are left behind in the shadows of oppression and uncertainty. Because of days like today, we must keep fighting.